Editorials

Water board’s concerns don’t include us

A farmer stands in the wings during a hearing conducted by the State Water Resources Control Board at the Merced Theatre in 2016. The board was supposed to vote on implementing its plan – which outraged residents of San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties – on Wednesday, but delayed it at the request of Gov. Jerry Brown and governor-elect Gavin Newsom.
A farmer stands in the wings during a hearing conducted by the State Water Resources Control Board at the Merced Theatre in 2016. The board was supposed to vote on implementing its plan – which outraged residents of San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties – on Wednesday, but delayed it at the request of Gov. Jerry Brown and governor-elect Gavin Newsom. cwinterfeldt@mercedsun-star.com

Don’t ask us to feel sorry for the people who want to act as arbiters of our fate. When members of the State Water Resources Control Board failed to deliver a “victory” for Bay Area environmentalists Wednesday, their anguish was palpable. Any sympathy for a million lives possibly uprooted or ruined in the Northern San Joaquin Valley was, well, not apparent.

We’re happy the state water board agreed – at the written request of Gov. Jerry Brown and governor-elect Gavin Newsom – to delay a vote that would devastate our region’s ag-based economy. But listening to the rants, rationalizations and disclaimers of board members who finally acquiesced to the governors’ request rubbed us the wrong way.

The board was scheduled to vote to implement a portion of the Bay Delta plan doubling the water flowing out our rivers into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Ostensibly a plan to help salmon, it offers no consideration for drought and no recognition of studies showing its obvious flaws. Concern for roughly 1 million people living here is minimal.

After three hours of comment, the board voted to delay action until its Dec. 12 meeting. Well, most of them voted. Two were so angry they abstained, making the vote 3-0. And chairwoman Felicia Marcus needed five minutes to explain how difficult it was for her to set aside her despair over accommodating a request from two governors that they be given time to work out a better plan – one people here can live with. Such a plan exists, but it discards the premise that flows alone create more fish, relying instead on river restoration and predator control.

“I don’t want another month, two months or three months,” proclaimed abstaining board member Tam Dudoc. “I think we need to demonstrate our (dedication) to this effort” and vote now.

The state has been focused on plummeting salmon populations on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers since 2009. Its first plan, required 35 percent unimpaired flows. An updated plan, in 2016, demanded 40 or 50 percent flows.

Knowing that would result in 100,000 acres of fallowed farmland and reduce drinking water for people in Modesto, Manteca and 23 Bay Area cities, people here were outraged. There have been protests, thousands of public comments and peer-reviewed studies refuting the state’s findings. All were ignored by four members of the board.

Brown and Newsom recognized there are people living here who want to help fish and restore the rivers, but who fear their lives will ruined by bureaucrats held captive by environmentalists. Through negotiations, a better plan is possible.

Their request to delay the vote infuriated some environmentalists. “We don’t need more studies or negotiations,” said Ben Eichenberger of the San Francisco Baykeeper. Peter Drekmeier of the Tuolumne River Trust spoke of dramatic salmon population declines dating from 1944. What was “the big change,” he asked rhetorically. “Don Pedro Dam and then new Don Pedro cutting off the life flow” of the rivers.

Drekmeier and Eichenberger have no stake in this fight. Their jobs won’t be destroyed, their wells won’t go dry or be contaminated by encroaching salts or arsenic. And they won’t be held accountable if reliance on outdated science results in no additional salmon.

Marcus felt their pain. “I want to (vote) today more than anyone else in the room,” she said before noting the governors’ desire to talk. “I have to have faith he will (negotiate) on behalf of fish.”

We have to have faith, too – that we can provide a better plan for people and salmon.

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